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Western fence lizard

Western fence lizard (blue-belly)
S. o. taylori
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Iguania
Family: Phrynosomatidae
Genus: Sceloporus
Species: S. occidentalis
Binomial name
Sceloporus occidentalis
Baird and Girard, 1852

The western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) is a common lizard of Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Northern Mexico, and the surrounding area. As the ventral abdomen of an adult is characteristically blue, it is also known as the blue-belly.

It is a member of the genus Sceloporus (the spiny lizards).[1]


  • Taxonomy 1
  • Identification 2
  • Distribution and habitat 3
  • Behavior 4
  • Reproduction 5
  • Lyme disease 6
  • References 7
  • See also 8


Taxonomy for the western fence lizard has been under much debate. S. occidentalis belongs in the order Squamata (snakes and lizards) and the suborder Iguania. The family in which it belongs is still under scrutiny. The family Phrynosomatidae, along with seven other families, used to be included in the single family Iguanidae, until Frost and Etheridge's (1989) analysis of iguanian systematics suggested the family be divided.[2] Some literature, however, still places the phrynosomatids in Iguanidae.

Six subspecies are recognized, as follows:

  • Island fence lizard, S. o. becki
  • San Joaquin fence lizard, S. o. biseriatus
  • Coast Range fence lizard, S. o. bocourtii
  • Great Basin fence lizard, S. o. longipes
  • Northwestern fence lizard, S. o. occidentalis
  • Sierra fence lizard, S. o. taylori

Some authors have raised the island fence lizard to specific rank, Sceloporus becki. However, recent work in molecular systematics has suggested there are four clades and 11 genetically separable populations, and the subspecies will probably have to be redefined.[1]


S. o. occidentalis courting on a log

Western fence lizards measure 5.7-8.9 cm (snout-vent length)[3] and a total length of about 21 cm.[4] They are brown to black in color (the brown may be sandy or greenish) and have black stripes on their backs, but their most distinguishing characteristic is their bright blue bellies. The ventral sides of the limbs are yellow.[5] These lizards also have blue patches on their throats. This bright coloration is faint or absent in both females and juveniles. The scales of S. occidentalis are sharply keeled, and between the interparietal and rear of thighs, there are 35-57 scales.[3]

Many other lizards have similar bright-blue coloring. The eastern fence lizard, S. undulatus, instead of having one large patch on its throat, has two small patches.[3] The sagebrush lizard, S. graciosus, lacks yellow limbs and has smaller dorsal scales.[3] S. occidentalis also resembles the side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana. However, the axilla of U. stansburiana usually has a black spot behind it and it has a complete gular fold.[3]

Distribution and habitat

Although California is the heart of the range of this lizard, it is also found in eastern and southwestern Idaho, Nevada, western Utah, northwestern Baja California, Arizona, and some of the islands off the coast of both California and Baja California.[6]

The western fence lizard occupies a variety of habitats. It is found in grassland, broken chaparral, sagebrush, woodland, coniferous forest, and farmland, and occupies elevations from sea level to 10,800 ft.[3] They generally avoid the harsh desert.

As of now, the western fence lizard is listed as unprotected, and no conservation restrictions apply.[5]


The blue ventral side of the lizard, giving it the name "blue belly"

These lizards are commonly seen in your house[5]

The western fence lizard eats spiders and insects such as beetles, mosquitoes, and various types of grasshoppers.

Like most other lizards, S. occidentalis goes through a period of hibernation during the winter. The length of time and when they emerge varies depending on climate. During the mating season, adult males will defend a home range.[4]


Western fence lizards mate in the spring, and do not breed until the spring of their second year. Females lay one to three clutches of three to 17 eggs (usually eight) between April and July. The eggs hatch in August.[3][4]

S. o. bocourtii
Closeup of head

Lyme disease

Studies have shown Lyme disease is lower in areas where the lizards occur. When ticks carrying Lyme disease feed on these lizards' blood (which they commonly do, especially around their ears), a protein in their blood kills the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. The blood inside the ticks' gut is therefore cleansed and no longer carries Lyme disease.[7]


  1. ^ a b "Sceloporus occidentalis".  
  2. ^ Family Phrynosomatidae from Animal Diversity Web
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Stebbins, Robert C. "A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians." 3rd ed. Peterson Field Guides, 2003
  4. ^ a b c Sceloporus occidentalis from Idaho Museum of Natural History
  5. ^ a b c Sceloporus occidentalis from San Diego Natural History Museum
  6. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) "Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)", Globaltwitcher, ed. Nicklas Stromberg [2]
  7. ^ Lizards that fight Lyme disease from the California Academy of Sciences

See also

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